Becoming Aerosolar Art in Science Project

Since coming to MIT in 2012 as the inaugural visiting artist-in-residence at the Center for Art, Science and Technology,  renowned sculpture Tomas Saraceno has developed an innovative collaboration with Department of Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences Senior Lecturer Lodovica Illari and Research Associate Bill McKenna. Their project Aerocene: Becoming Aerosolar explores the scientific and aesthetic uses of high-altitude solar balloons to meld art with science in a way that engages the public and raises awareness on issues of environment and sustainability (read article).

As part of the outreach component of the Ozone and Climate FESD Project, Aerocene manifests as a series of balloon sculptures flying in the lower stratosphere and ozone layer, buoyed only by heat absorbed from the Sun and the Earth. The sculptures float without burning fossil fuels or using solar panels and batteries; and without helium, hydrogen and other rare gases.  In striving to achieve the first emissions-free flight around the world, Aerocene is intended to communicate a message of simplicity, creativity and cooperation in a world of tumultuous geopolitical relations, and to remind us of our symbiotic relationship with Earth and all its species, Saraceno said.

The sky really is the limit for the Aerocene project, or at least the lower stratosphere, where the team hopes it can soon send both instruments and people bumping along at between 20 and 30 km above Earth--lower at night, higher during the day--a critical layer of the atmosphere where the chemistry of ozone, methane and other chemicals fundamentally impacts climate, Illari explained.

A demonstration of the Aerocene made a big splash at Solutions COP21, the exhibition of scientific and educational innovations at the Grand Palais du Paris held in conjunction with the historic UN Paris Climate Summit during December 2015, as described in articles published in the New York Times (read article) and on the MITNews web site (read article). Illari and Saraceno also exhibited during MIT's Open House held on April 2016 to celebrate 100 years at the Cambridge campus (read articles here and here) and in Davos, Switzerland at the 47th World Economic Forum in January 2017 (read article).

Final Public Workshop

A special workshop presenting the project, its purpose and its findings to the public will be held during the spring of 2019 in conjunction with the fifth and final annual meeting of the research team.